President Obama’s handshake and few words with Cuba’s president, Raul Castro, at the memorial ceremony last week for Nelson Mandela could mean something or nothing. It should mean a new start for America’s Cuba policy.
Before the brief encounter in the stadium where the presidents came to pay tribute to the late South African leader, Americans were reminded of the disastrous 54 years of bad U.S. relations with the nearby island.
The failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 and the effort by the Soviet Union to install dangerous weapons 90 miles from U.S. shores have not been forgotten, or forgiven, by either country. Still, Mr. Obama was entirely correct to greet his Cuban counterpart.
Both men were invited to speak by their South African hosts. Forgiveness of former enemies was at the core of the philosophy of the man they honored.
U.S.-Cuban policy is due for review. Cuba is taking steps, albeit small, to improve its treatment of its citizens and strengthen its economy. If the United States, 50 or 30 or 10 years ago, had sought to draw Cuba into the hemispheric family of nations, rather than pursue a failed policy of isolation while waiting for Raul Castro and his brother Fidel to die or go away, America would be better off now.
The United States gains nothing by having such a poor country nearby, with travel to and from Cuba confounded for people of both countries, and bad relations with Cuba damaging U.S. dealings with the rest of Latin America. Puerto Rico or the U.S. mainland — not Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — should host the terrorist penal colony that Mr. Obama still hasn’t kept his promise to close.
Mr. Obama’s handshake with Mr. Castro should lead to improved U.S.-Cuban relations. Maybe they could have lunch next.
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